18 January ~ Stuart Pearce will join a select list of managers when he takes charge of the British Olympic team for London 2012. A host of other names, including Harry Redknapp and David Beckham, were linked with the job but on January 12, the Football Association confirmed the post had gone to the current England Under-21 manager.
The Under-21s’ schedule will be postponed for the 2011-12 season, allowing Pearce to prepare properly for the only big football tournament that England are likely to stage for the foreseeable future. He will want a better performance than his predecessor, the notorious long-ball guru Charles Hughes. Before he became the FA’s director of coaching, Hughes managed the old England amateur team and doubled up as Olympic manager.
Hughes was in charge for the GB team’s last outing, a 5-0 rout in Sofia in May 1971, when even his own keeper, John Swannell, admitted that Bulgarians could have scored 20. The two-legged tie was a total mismatch as many of Bulgaria’s XI were at the 1970 World Cup and GB’s 1-0 win in the first leg had been a monumental upset. Hughes took charge during the 1964 qualifiers but lost his first tie, when GB went down 5-3 on aggregate to a Greek side later ejected for being professionals.
Olympic football was then supposedly amateur, though the Soviet Bloc countries did not recognise the concept and players from many countries took payments, secret or otherwise. In three Olympics, Hughes never emulated his predecessor, Norman Creek, by taking a team to the finals.
A former Corinthian and full England international, Creek steered GB through the 1960 qualifiers ahead of Holland and Ireland to the Rome finals. His team put up a decent showing before going out in the first round in the last outing by a GB side at an Olympic finals. Also the England amateur manager, Creek took charge for the 1956 Olympics, when a team of Englishmen lost in the qualifiers to Bulgaria, were invited back into the finals in Melbourne after a raft of withdrawals only to be knocked out by Bulgaria – again.
Before Creek, the manager of the full England team, Walter Winterbottom, was briefly in charge for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki but suffered a 5-3 pasting by Luxembourg in the preliminary round. That was the team’s nadir and followed a sterling performance in 1948, when Matt Busby took a team of teachers, doctors and vets to the semi-finals and a bronze medal play-off with Denmark that was lot 5-3.
Prior to the last London games, the managers, who included future FIFA president Stanley Rous in 1936, were not managers in the current sense. Instead, the team was guided by coaches, who included Fulham’s Bill Voisey in Berlin, Cardiff’s George Latham (1920) and Adrian Birch of Crystal Palace in 1912, the team’s last gold medal win. Alfred Davis also won gold at London in 1908 and Stuart Pearce will be expected to do the same in 2012. His predecessor’s track records will have little bearing but he will surely hope to avoid Bulgaria. Steve Menary
Steve Menary is the author of GB United? British Olympic football & the end of the amateur dream (Pitch Publications 2010). Read the first chapter for free here